AM At The Movies: ‘Aloha’

Above: Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone star in the new romantic-comedy 'Aloha'

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, John Krasinski and Alec Baldwin
Directed by: Cameron Crowe
Run Time: 105 minutes

Aloha isn’t even a typical, imperfect Cameron Crowe movie where there are elements that you just shake your head at in disbelief, but as the characters banter back and forth and their star power shines through, you kind of just tuck those objections away as “it’s stupid, but whatever” because even when he’s operating at 65%, Crowe’s films have a way of being good enough to hold your attention and entertain.

If Say Anything is Crowe at his finest and Elizabethtown is the low point on the spectrum, Aloha falls closer to that Orlando Bloom-led miscue than anything else in the Jerry Maguire director’s catalogue. It’s not that there aren’t high points, it’s that the pros are drastically outweighed by the cons. For instance:

Pro: A Hall & Oates jam soundtracks a dance scene between Emma Stone and Bill Murray

Con: Emma Stone is supposed to be a quarter Hawaiian and that is evidently essential to her character’s backstory.

The problem with Aloha is that all the pros end up in that “this is fun” category like having a killer soundtrack (as most Crowe films do) and getting quality short-burst performances from people like Baldwin, Krasinski and Danny McBride, who is so much better when used sparringly, while the cons are major stumbling points like why in the hell would you cast Stone as the daughter of parents who were Swedish (her fictional mother) and Chinese-Hawaiian (her fictional father) and make that crucial? As Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Lee points out, Crowe could have made her a native Hawaiian.

As Rob Lowe’s smarmy Hollywood exec says in Thank You For Smoking, “It’s one line of dialogue.” Toss in that her family moved to Hawaii from the wherever after WWII, both her folks were born and raised there and you’re good. It explains her deep knowledge of Hawaiian traditions and history and mythology without forcing you to accept that Stone’s character is 25 percent Hawaiian.

It’s not just character backstories and actor selection that is problematic here though. Aloha was one of the films that got outed in the Sony Hacking Scandal where then-boss Amy Pascal said it “never works” despite numerous re-writes and much tinkering. She’s absolutely correct.

There is a good movie somewhere in all this mess and there was a time when Crowe was the ideal person to make it, but he seems to have lost his once deft touch and the results are trending in the wrong direction as of late. If We Bought a Zoo was harmlessly mediocre, Aloha walks the line between entirely skippable and watchable for a couple moments despite being mostly bad.

This is the first time in recent memory Cooper has come off as “Bradley Cooper, Movie Star” on screen. You always know it’s him, but most of the time, he’s so convincing in his performance that you buy into the character, but not here. His “morally bankrupt and looking to start rebuilding his credit” military contractor just feels like Bradley Cooper with little flecks of “there is someone in there” shining through occasionally.

Stone’s overly eager, straight-laced fighter pilot (!!) still feels underdeveloped despite talking a lot and having tons of factoids to spit out. Again, there is something deeper and richer there, but rather than seeing that develop, she ends up being a somewhat generic “this is the female character in a dramedy that you know is going to end a certain way” type and it bites because Stone is capable of so much more.

Rachel McAdams is very good in a limited role as Cooper’s ex-flame who is exasperated by her husband’s unwillingness to talk about anything during those few days per week when he’s actually at home. She and Cooper have a clear chemistry and McAdams, like Stone, deserves much more than being “the other girl” in a struggling effort like this. Hopefully we get that from her in Season 2 of True Detective.

Krasinski does a great job as the silent partner, playing the bottled up, unsure how to deal with everything he’s thinking/feeling guy part extremely well, while Bill Murray feels underutilized as a billionaire industrialist.

Maybe it’s that Aloha took a long, long time to complete and Crowe just ran out of steam with it or he was trying to hard to deliver a new Jerry Maguire, but whatever it is, all the potential that exists in this movie fails to materialize.

Until further notice, stick to getting your warm and fuzzy Cameron Crowe fixes from DVDs and Netflix.

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